Richards and Clarke seal deals at Rovers
Bristol Rovers have secured the futures of two of their emerging youngsters by agreeing new deals with striker Eliot Richards and midfielder Ollie Clarke.
Richards, 20, scored the first hat-trick of career in the recent 7-1 win over Burton – reaching double figures for the season – and has signed a new two-year contract.
Clarke, 19, has fought back from a serious knee injury he suffered last summer to win himself another year at the Memorial Stadium.
"Eliot is a young player who has potential, although he has a lot of work to do on all aspects of his game to become a complete player," said manager Mark McGhee.
"But he has shown a willingness and an appetite to learn and improve.
"He has a long summer of work ahead to make sure he comes back stronger and is a starter in August.
"He has got goals, he has pace and skill – everything a young striker should have.
"Now he has to apply it and make football his lifestyle. Everything he does outside of the game has to be geared towards training and matches if he is going to make it.
"I've liked what I've seen of Ollie and he is a bit different to some of the other midfielders we have here. He has a little bit of aggression, which I didn't expect when I first looked at him.
"He goes past people, has a good eye and is a quick mover. He's young, still a bit lightweight and he needs a bit of work, but there are signs in there that he's a good player."
Clarke said: "I ruptured my anterior cruciate ligament on the first day of pre-season and didn't return to training until the end of January, so I didn't know what was going to happen to me.
"I was just hoping for the best, but when Paul Buckle was sacked I didn't know where that left me.
"The manager hasn't been here very long, so it's great for me that I've managed to prove to him that I'm worth a new contract.
"Now my ambition is to get some game time with the first team. I had a few minutes at Colchester in the final game of last season under Stuart Campbell, but so far that's been it.
"The manager has told me that if I can prove myself, there's no reason why I can't be involved in the squad next season."
Richards has already chalked up 30 league appearances for Rovers – 14 of them from the bench – but is aiming to be a regular starter next term.
"Hopefully, next season I can get in the team regularly, score goals and help us get into League One," he said. "I got to double figures this season and next time I'd like to reach 20."
McGhee has made it clear that the two deals are just the first steps in shaping his squad for next season.
"We are talking to all of the players who are out of contract and some others we have thoughts about – and that will be ongoing over the summer," he said.
"It would be great to have everything tied up on one day, but it doesn't work like that.
"But it will be great for our supporters to see young players being retained and I'm sure they will be delighted with the news."
Rovers round off their home campaign against Accrington Stanley today with McGhee keen to extend the run which has seen the side unbeaten on their own soil since he took over in January.
"It's been a short season for me, but it's been interesting and enjoyable – and I have learned a lot in the short space of time I've been here," he said.
Home performances have mostly been good and we want to send our supporters away with a positive message about next season and our attitude regarding the future.
"We can do that with a positive and determined performance in our final home game, even though there is nothing really at stake apart from the three points.
"We have had great support from our fans and we want to maintain that relationship and enhance it. The way to do that is to win games, give committed and determined performances and make sure we are difficult to beat at home.
"Since I arrived, our average points return – if extrapolated over 46 games – would probably take us to the edge of the play-offs. But it's not automatic promotion form, so there are still improvements that Shaun North and I have to make."
Aaron Downes is expected to replace the suspended Tom Parkes in central defence, but McGhee admitted: "It's a difficult team to pick because everybody wants to play.
"I feel the loan players we have had have done a great job and I'd like to give them the opportunity to bow out in front of the home supporters, but we have others – like Wayne Brown – who are desperate for an opportunity."